Sunday, April 1, 2018

Book Review: "The Family Next Door" by Sally Hepworth

"The truth was, despite appearances, she didn't know much about her neighbors at all."

I've been reading a lot of books over the last few years about tight-knit neighborhoods in which secrets are brewing below the surface—Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies, Marybeth Mayhew Whalen's When We Were Worthy, Jessica Strawser's Not That I Could Tell, and now, Sally Hepworth's newest book, The Family Next Door, just to name a few.

Reading these books certainly makes me wonder just how many secrets were hidden in the suburban New Jersey neighborhood where I grew up years ago!!

Pleasant Court, in the Australian town of Sandringham, has always been a quiet spot, where houses are quite expensive because there is a beach at the end of the road. No one new has moved in for quite some time, especially no one single, so the neighborhood is thrown a bit when Isabelle (who lives alone but spoke of a mysterious "partner" to the real estate agent) moves in alone. Everyone wants to know more about her—is she straight or gay, what brings her to Sandringham, why is she renting her house, and what secrets is she hiding?

The thing is, despite their curiosity about Isabelle, there are other residents of Pleasant Court who have things to hide as well, despite how picture perfect their lives seem. Why is Fran out jogging for long stretches of time two, sometimes three times a day? Is she punishing herself for something? Why is Ange's husband never where he says he is, even though he always seems so willing to help her with the kids or household chores? Why is his phone ringing all the time? And should people be worried that Essie, who several years ago left her baby daughter alone at the park, might be suffering from postpartum depression again after the birth of her second child?

As each individual struggles to navigate the chaos of their own lives, they still want to know more about Isabelle. While she's friendly to everyone, she seems to know a lot about Essie and her life, and it's Essie with whom she really wants to build a friendship. And as Essie's initial unease around Isabelle starts to deepen into something more intense, her family and friends start to get concerned. What does Isabelle want? Why did she move here? The secrets threaten to upend many lives, and roil the relative calm of Pleasant Court.

So many people raved about this book, and I was excited to read it not long after it was released. I found it took a while to build up steam, but once Hepworth started ratcheting up the suspense, it became pretty fascinating. I will admit there was one twist I just didn't see coming, and given how many thrillers I read, it's no mean feat to surprise me. The characters are certainly quirky and flawed, but for the most part, the issues they're dealing with are commonplace, so it doesn't feel like you have to suspend your disbelief.

I'd imagine this is going to be a book you see lots of people reading over the next few months, as it's a perfect vacation/beach read. This may have been the first of Hepworth's books I've read, but it won't be the last, because she's a talented storyteller, not drowning her story in lots of extraneous subplots, and throwing in enough red herrings to keep you guessing.

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